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In his Metaphysics Aristotle tried to prove contradictions can never be true. The sentence as a whole is of course not ambiguous, and once he or she gets to the end of it your reader will see what it means. But there is a risk that, on the way there, your reader will momentarily suppose that you are claiming that Aristotle tried to prove contradictions. Now that will puzzle your reader (who may know a bit about Aristotle) and cause unnecessary annoyance to boot when the reader realises that what you’re actually trying to say is the exact reverse of this. The general principle here is this: don’t booby-trap your prose. That is, don’t write in such a way that, in order to reach the intended meaning, your reader first has to entertain, only to discard, unintended ambiguities and possible, but irrelevant, interpretations of your text. Writing to the required degree of precision and clarity is a very demanding exercise, and we are all guilty of falling short now and then (just as we all sometimes make grammatical mistakes). But the aim of your writing should be to make your reader’s job as straightforward as possible.

Of course some people are allowed to break just about any grammatical rule you care to mention (though not all rules simultaneously, otherwise they would be literally unreadable): they are Great Writers. After my death (dear love) forget me quite. Than niggard truth would willingly impart. Let’s get down to business. The best way to improve your philosophical style is to pay close attention to, and imitate, the style of good modern philosophical writers. When you are reading secondary material, concentrate not just on what is said, but also on how it is said. Look at the choice of vocabulary, the use of punctuation, and the rhetorical devices used to build up an argument. Make a note of points which strike you as useful or interesting. Use your study journal (see your Handbook) for this purpose. The more you inculcate good practice into your writing, the more it will become second nature, so that in an unseen examination-when one doesn’t have time to think about such matters – you will automatically write well. There are now many good guides to grammar and style on the market: it is well worth your while to get hold of one of these and study it. Here are some suggestions (but the list is by no means exhaustive). For a clear guide to punctuation, capitalisation and fonts, see How to Punctuate by R. L. Trask, available from the Hums school office at a small cost. The Oxford Dictionary and English Usage Guide is a very convenient, and cheap, combined dictionary and guide to the main points of grammar and usage.

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